Happiness means burning bridges




Watch the video.

If you don’t have the 21 minutes to watch the video, here’s the important parts:

Two kinds of happiness – There are two kinds of happiness: natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Natural happiness is happiness we get when get what we want. Synthetic happiness is synthesized happiness. It’s happiness we make when we don’t get what we want.

Natural happiness is not better – Synthetic happiness produces a measurable, testable change. People are not just making it up when they say they’re happy despite not getting what they want. The video talks about an experiment that was done to prove this.

Before choosing, choices promote natural happiness – When you don’t have to choose, having a lot of choices makes you naturally happy.

After choosing, choices inhibit the creation of synthetic happiness – When we have the ability to change our minds, we become less happy because we aren’t sure if we made the right decision. The video talks about a Harvard psychological experiment that demonstrates this.

How this applies to INFPs

INFPs have problems making decisions for two reasons:

  1. We want to make the right choice, the perfect choice. We end up wasting a lot of time trying to gather up enough data for us to choose. This could be anything from which career to pursue to where to eat today.
  2. After we make the choice and as soon as the first sign of adversity hits us, we start thinking that if we had made the perfect choice then we wouldn’t have all these problems. So we start second guessing that choice. Should we have chosen something else?

It’s this second guessing that inhibits our ability to find happiness in the choice we made. This is synthetic happiness and I believe synthetic happiness is real. I believe it’s real because INFPs create synthetic happiness all the time.

Every time on a forum thread where I see an INFP saying that the world wasn’t created for INFPs to successful that’s an INFP creating synthetic happiness. I see the creation of synthetic happiness in every excuse INFPs use to blame our unhappiness on things we believe are outside their control (I’m shy and can’t meet people, the world doesn’t understand me). We make ourselves better by saying that our lot in life isn’t really our choice.

Second guessing kills happiness and success

Could we have made a better choice? Maybe. Here’s the real question. How much time are we going to waste wondering if we made the right decision instead of fully committing to the decision we did make?

Success and self-esteem go hand-in-hand. When we succeed at something we feel better about ourselves. Success and happiness aren’t directly related because we can succeed at something unimportant which won’t make us happy. There’s a saying. When climbing the ladder of success, make sure it’s leaning against the right wall.

I’m talking about all types of success. Success at making friends. Success at becoming financially stable. Success at becoming our Ideal Self. However, success requires dedication and full commitment. INFPs never make that full commitment because think we can go back and make a better choice.

Success doesn’t lead to happiness, but the self-confidence we gain will keep us going until we finally succeed at something that does bring natural happiness. So if natural happiness comes from getting what we want? Does this mean we’re unhappy getting to what we want? Of course, people can be happy in the journey, but it’s the happiness we find in the journey. It’s the happiness we make. It’s synthetic happiness.

Burning bridges leads to happiness

When we have no choice but to succeed, we will do everything we can possibly do not to fail. We will work our asses off to not fail because failing means dire consequences.

When I was 19, I moved out my parent’s house. I just couldn’t live with them and their rules any longer. So with no job, one month’s rent and telling my parents I’m never speaking to them again, I moved in with some friends. I had to find a job fast, anything. I couldn’t fail because I had nowhere else to go. I ended up finding a job serving popcorn at a movie theater.

I didn’t waste anytime second-guessing my decision because I couldn’t unmake my decision. It was do or die. So instead of that energy focused behind me. All my energy was focused on succeeding. I was never happier.

Committing to choices means risk especially if we can’t go back. INFPs rarely regret the choices we made that didn’t turn out well because it makes us into the people we are. INFPs regret the choices we didn’t make because it’s another lost opportunity to discover more about ourselves. It’s another chance to become our Ideal Self that we didn’t take.

The best thing about making choices we can’t back out of, we are happier. As that Harvard experiment in the video demonstrates, we come to decide that we like the decision we made because we don’t have a choice.

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38 Responses to “Happiness means burning bridges”

  1. E.

    Apr 16, 2010

    5:37 pm

    This post is incredible. It totally resonates with me. I stumbled upon your blog after numerous reads (I mean numerous. Almost a new found obsession! But in a soul searching kind of way.) of online INFP descriptions and related materials. I’ve had issues about decision-making my entire life. After much “analysis-paralysis” I come to a decision and I commit to that decision. Especially when it is a major life altering decision that entails moving to Hawaii to go to grad school and leaving a full time job of four years (right out of undergrad). (I read comments to previous posts about other people doing this very thing. I guess my idea is not very original! But at least it’s a good one.) I am 26 and can definitely relate to your posts. I may not know about marriage, family and kids but I def. can relate in other ways. Thanks for your words.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I’m hope this INFP blog helps. I’m 39 and I’m still looking for the answers that work for me. There’s much more that I want to do and my life has been on pause. Writing this blog helps me sort out issues and thoughts that I have about the INFP personality type.

    I also suggest looking outside just INFP related writing to find answers. I have. I would recommend looking at another TED.com video called The Paradox of Choice.


  2. Catherine Vibert

    Apr 26, 2010

    4:56 am

    Really this is quite perfect for me. Having made a major choice to move across the country and take care of my pa two years ago, I’m now in second guessing mode. This article really hits home on the fully committing front. And I fully agree with the concept of synthesized happiness. It’s true, it works! I never could understand why people didn’t do that more, some folks. But that imagination can soothe quite effectively. 🙂 Again, I thank you for your excellent thoughts Corin.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I’m trying not to second guess my decisions but it’s hard. If I only would have done this or that then I would be somehow happier. Eventually, I just realize that even if I made a bad decision, I’m far happier than letting time pass and having the decision made for me instead.


  3. Ben

    Apr 28, 2010

    8:32 am

    I can totally relate to this. I’m always second guessing myself. After most encounters with people I’m like “Should I have said that?” “That was a dumb thing to say” I’ve recently started doing this thing where if people I have added on MSN/FaceBook etc piss me off I just delete them. It’s quite a gratifying feeling haha. For some reason I don’t second guess those decisions though because those people often have contributed nothing to my life and are not exactly all that nice. But that only becomes evident after I’ve talked to them for a while. It’s like cutting someone out of your life that you barely ever talked to or liked. I think it’s kind of my way of trying to be in control of something.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I usually don’t mind keeping people who don’t detract from my life. I find it’s always good to let people in since my good friends now were at the edges of my life until something changed in me and I needed to find other people to relate to.

    However, I do try to distance myself from those how make my life worse. I think everyone is doing their best to get those two steps forward. Anyone that takes you the one step back is wasting your time.


  4. antonius bimo

    Apr 30, 2010

    12:36 pm

    we are “to good to be true” on gathering a huge information objectively, but on the other side the data confusing us on making a fast and realistic decision!
    I hardly say to myself: when I make decision, don’t look back!, just go straight fordward! and stay commit with my last decision!
    I fell much happier on this state then other moment of my live 🙂


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    Since were feelers, everything does eventually come down to an emotional feeling decisions.

    Usually all my decisions come down to one question: will I regret not doing this later even though doing this now may turn out to be a huge mistake?


    Leich Reply:

    I’m usually very good in feeling and letting the intuition point to what may be a good decision for me, but am bad in being able to expressly put down the criteria or reasoning behind. However, by some uncanny luck, I was able to pin down exactly this question very early on in my life and it became my guiding principle. This is why, although I still often question some my decisions or think what would I be like should I had decided differently (cannot escape that part of my persona completely), I don’t beat myself over it. I know I’ve been making my decisions based on this firm principle, which I guess I could even call fear of regret.
    I wish I’ve discovered your blog years ago. I just know it would have been of great help. I’m quite excited to go through the texts – I can honestly say nothing of the sort has resonated with me so much as some of these writings.


  5. Jennifer M.

    May 9, 2010

    8:12 pm

    This post is great! I have always struggled with (big) decision making. Stuff like college, grad school, moving, etc. A lot of times I’ll get so paralyzed in the fear of making the wrong choice that I end up deciding to do nothing! Although then sometimes that at least gives me some peace b/c I know I’ve at least entertained the other possibilities.

    The times I have jumped ahead and made a big decision like that, it usually works out, although sometimes I do second-guess myself. Other times I jump in and realize it was totally the wrong choice so I jump back out. I’m sure I look like a flake when I do this, but I figure that was just my way of figuring out what would work for me so I don’t sweat it.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I do this exercise every month or so called Zero-Based Thinking. Basically, I ask myself this questions: “Knowing what I know now, would I have gotten into this in the first place?” This applies to people I meet and activities I do. If the answer is no, I try to get out as quick as I can. As an INFP, sometimes that answer is “I don’t know yet.” For the I-don’t-know’s, I keep going until I get a very definite sense of no. I don’t always know if things are write but I always no if something is very wrong. I pay attention to the wrong feeling.


    Jennifer M. Reply:

    Hmm that’s a very interesting idea. I’m going to have to try that. That’s a better alternative to getting into a bad situation and then feeling stuck there, which is what I usually do.


  6. Kristen

    May 18, 2010

    2:04 am

    Amazing post! Simply amazing! I am pretty sure I am an INFP and reading this really helped me out with what I am going through lately. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this for everyone!


  7. izzati

    Aug 5, 2010

    7:43 am

    It’s kind of hard..how do you stop second guessing?


    Corin Reply:

    You can only second guess if you have 3 things: the time, the option and the inclination. Unfortunately it’s in the INFP nature to second guess because we’re always looking for more information and we delay making decisions and commitments.

    However, we can mitigate the inclination with the other two. We second guess if we have the option to second guess. When I make a decisions, I take enough action to get myself pass the point of “if-I-change-my-mind-I’m-pretty-screwed”. At that point, it’s better for me finish than to go back.

    Also, second guessing requires time and focus. When I’ve made a decision, I go on to the next thing. There’s always a next thing to do. There’s always something just as important in my life to focus on besides the last decision so I don’t have time to second what I did before.


  8. Priya Florence Shah

    Sep 10, 2010

    3:24 pm

    Second-guessing – the bane of my life. One thing that I have learned, however, is because of my intuitive gifts, trusting my instincts is usually best for me. When I second-guess my instincts, I err. But I also believe that everything happens to teach us lessons we have chosen/need to learn. So I choose to focus on the fact that I can be happy no matter what.


  9. lelia

    Jan 11, 2011

    8:10 am

    thank you so so much, this will help me to not spend so much time being unhappy cause I’m not sure I made the right decition and forget the past….


  10. kanika

    Feb 11, 2011

    2:05 pm

    Hi…I got to know that I am an ‘INFP’ by accident. And it is synchronicity that has lead me to your blog. Like many others here I too can relate to each and every post here. Honestly, it gives me immense relief, that I am not a crazy person who has such thoughts. It’s a relief that there exists other people who think in the same way that I do and I am not alone in this world.

    My current dilemma is to chose between a curator job in my hometown or to move to another city for a two year paid Teach for India fellowship. I have got this job offer after a long wait and I equally long for the fellowship as I want to move away from my family and want to learn to live on my own.

    After reading this post, I guess I will take up the curating job at present which is sure thing while I have just completed first step of the fellowship process. I will try to do my best in the upcoming phone and in person interviews. If I get the fellowship will leave curating job and move on to the fellowship. And If I don’t get it, at least I will not regret that I lost an opportunity when it knocked on my doors. Does it sound realistic?

    You sure have a way with words. Reading your posts is not only therapeutic but cathartic as well for me. Keep up the good work…



    Corin Reply:

    If you get the chance, read my post in Making a Better Decision where I write about why it’s so hard to make a decision. It’s not about making a “realistic” decision. It’s about how we tend to overestimate the perfection of results of any decision we make that causes us issues.


  11. Oliver

    May 5, 2011

    10:39 am

    Yesssss, another post that I can relate to, and: “We want to make the right choice, the perfect choice. We end up wasting a lot of time trying to gather up enough data for us to choose. This could be anything from which career to pursue to where to eat today.” applies to me very much so right now. I’m taking a year off after high school before going to university and I’m facing the problem of choosing which career path to take, as well as what kind of job I want to take in the time between now and going to university. I’ll read the ‘Making a Better Decision’ article and see if it helps me during this process, thanks so much! 😀


  12. Sinan

    Jun 23, 2011

    2:37 pm

    Corin, first of all, thank you very much for doing this. Your posts are a great help. I love the fact that you give INFPs a reality check without being an ESTJ. I’m 24 years old and have had a pretty stereotypically INFP experience up until now. But thankfully finished my business degree with much pressure from my parents. And, I’m right at the point of my life where I’m seriously considering making a big move (“burning bridges” by quitting to work at my very ESTJ dad’s trading business and moving to a different city to start a new life) It’s a painful process, but I totally agree that being the sole responsible for my own survival will make me much happier as I will have very few opportunities to choose from. I actually like that idea a lot…

    You’re our INFP angel Corin! Thank you so much for your effort 🙂


    Andrea Reply:

    The world is full of ESTJs (or ESTJ wanna-bes)!! Good luck with the move and congratulations on being courageous enough to admit your differences.


  13. Karen

    Jul 6, 2011

    2:36 pm

    From your post: “INFPs rarely regret the choices we made that didn’t turn out well because it makes us into the people we are. ”

    I must respectfully disagree, when said choice affects more than just the individual self. I know I’ve made many INFP-ish choices in my life that were at odds with the Guardians that surround me, and because those choices brought them such pain and confusion in the end, I do regret a number of them. There could have been another way to deal with things; or had I not been so naive and trusting (read: INFP) I would have perceived from the beginning a tangled mess of perspectives and concepts as possible end results. That is not to say that they were right and I was wrong, or I was right and they were wrong, but there is something to be said for sacrificing for the greater good. Selfishness is a separate entity from authenticity, which fact I see a lot of INFPs have difficulty grasping. “Be true to yourself!” rings the cry. Healing others around us has to start somewhere, and if we’re constantly subjecting the NTs, SJs, or SPs to our very eclectic interpretations of reality without common ground, we can alienate and distance those people whom we are attempting to help before ever being able to do so. In other words, we can be true to ourselves without discarding the necessity of showing respect to others in our lives.


    Hare Reply:

    I agree.

    Also studies have also shown that happiness makes people more selfish, so I don’t think we should make choices that make us happy all the time. We need balance.


  14. Christian Life Coach Jennie Turton

    Jan 23, 2012

    12:13 pm

    As an INFP I have been so challenged and encouraged by this article! Thank you for speaking to a struggle that is so common among us INFPs. As a Christian Life Coach I have used this article countless times with clients of mine who are dealing with a pervasive feeling of discontent in their current situations. It has become a favorite resource of mine! Thank you so much for sharing your insights!


  15. Jon

    Apr 15, 2012

    4:59 pm

    Great post. I’m an INFP with the typical problems making a choice, spending too much time gathering information, etc.

    The only thing I’m not sure about in the Gilbert video is his distinction between ‘real’ happiness (when we get the outcome we were desiring) and synthetic happiness. I lean more toward the Shakespeare quote (essentially, that all happiness is manufactured) that Gilbert dismisses as unrealistic. The fact that people with tons of outward success (like Marilyn Monroe and many others ) can end up unhappy while others with little ‘objective’ ‘outward’ success can be happy suggests to me that overall happiness is relatively unrelated to the immediate satisfaction of getting what we wanted. I think that instead of speaking of ‘synthetic’ happiness, we should see all happiness as depending upon our perceptions. If we can’t enjoy a cup of coffee sitting while on the steps in the morning, we’re unlikely to enjoy other things either.


  16. Janet d'Eon

    Apr 24, 2012

    2:47 pm

    I just stumbled on this blog this week and I am so grateful to be able to read the blog and the comments of other readers. They resonate with me so much. It has only been in the past year that I have identified with the INFP . For years I identified with being an ISFJ. Over the past two or three years I have done some in-depth work on personal development completing a life coaching course and exploring the more mystical, spiritual side of life. Reading about the analysis-paralysis mode of being describes me so well. This especially applies to my professional life and believe me I an full of regret and wishing I had made decisions years ago. My quest now is can I make a decision and move forward now considering leaving an employer of 20+ years and returning to graduate school to study a Masters in Counseling.


    Corin Reply:

    It’s been very inspiring to read about INFPs who reach points in their life where we make major life choices.

    I tend to see people growing in a series of spirals. We move up one spiral of growth until we reach the pinnacle. At the top, we have to make this intuitive leap to the next spiral of growth. Sometimes we get stuck. Indecision, procrastination or just lack of clarity makes us backslide down on current spiral. Then we start moving up the same spiral again until we do make the leap to the next growth spiral.

    When we do make that leap, it seems like we are further back then we started. Being at the top of one spiral means that we’ve grown as far as we can with what we knew. Now at the bottom of the next spiral up, many of the rules from the last spiral are no longer applicable. We have to create this new way of living. It’s exciting and scary because you can’t go back to the previous growth spiral even if you tried.

    It’s like moving out of your parents house for the first time. Even if you have to move back years later, you are not the person you were before you moved out that first time.


  17. MSmith

    Jun 17, 2012

    2:09 am

    Interesting post, thank you. I think Dan Gilbert is a bit optimistic thought where he states that we can all recover from bad things within 3 months…what about traumas, post-war syndromes etc., I thought they usually take years to heal…?


    Corin Reply:

    It’s called Impact Bias and it’s not about recovery and healing. It’s about estimated level of happiness and the you return to your level of happiness before the trauma very quickly and that happens without actually recovering from the trauma. They’ve done various studies about Impact Bias with women getting unexpectedly pregnant or people who have gotten into accidents among other big life changing events. We overestimate how big events will affect our level of happiness. And in the long run, it doesn’t and we go back to the level of happiness we were at before.


  18. Ross Brooks

    Dec 16, 2012

    5:16 pm

    Really enjoyed this post, especially as I’m making a big move in the next couple of months and it served as a great reminder not to second guess myself.

    The idea of zero-based thinking is a really good one as well. A lot of people feel guilty about the idea of quitting but I think it’s a completely valid thing to do. Especially if you’ve given something your full attention for a prolonged period of time; only to discover it doesn’t provide as much enjoyment or fulfilment as you had anticipated. At least by experimenting this way, there is a good chance you will find that one thing, or combination of things that make you most happy.


  19. Amber

    Feb 24, 2013

    12:06 pm

    This is the most amazing post I have ever read. I have never found an article that sums up my personality so well. I have so many dreams and goals but rarely get anything started let alone completed because I struggle so hard to make decisions. Or if I do make a decision I second guess the choice and then detour down another path. This lack of consistency in my life has seen me bounce from job to job….never sticking at anything for more than a year. Ironically I seem to be constantly presented with new opportunities and from the outside looking in, most people would think I have lived a very charmed life. In reality I think my constant ‘luck’ is a result of the genuine passion I hold and exude for projects that interest me. I dive in head first and my enthusiasm is always very attractive to others. The problem is this enthusiasm generally has an expiry date. Things change, I question my choices and suddenly I decide to invest all my attention elsewhere. I have disappointed a lot of people with this pattern of behaviour and it never feels good. My new strategy is to take more of an objective view of my thoughts and analyse the underlying needs I am trying to fulfil before committing to jobs, relationships and project. I really want to excel at something in my life and I know that requires focus and consistency. Recently I have been reading a lot about developing habits and rituals – I think developing routines may be part of the key to dealing with my own erratic INFP behaviours.


  20. Alberto

    Mar 10, 2013

    4:16 pm

    Hi, I’m a recently-discovered Inpf. For me, this is like discovering a new amazing world (not bad intentions here, I discover new amazing worlds every couple of weeks, and now I know that doesnt mean I’m crazy xD)
    I find every new information about this fenomena really useful, finding that things like ‘delaying decisions’ and ‘not having a life plan’ doesn’t happen only to me. It’s like discovering that you’re actually not alone.
    I want to ask, if you have time, about the concept of ‘natural happiness’ and ‘syntethic happiness’. I find it interesting, but I don’t understand it. Maybe because english is not my native language. Can you put another examples?
    Loveling your blog, learning a lot!


  21. Reuben

    Oct 12, 2013

    1:57 am

    Wow. I think this also explains my experience every time I give a talk or teach a class. As I plan the material and put together slides or notes, I’m usually stressed out and miserable. As the hour approaches, it gets worse. I’m not satisfied with anything and I get increasingly nervous or anxious. Then, as soon as I get in front of people and start talking, there’s this sudden change where I stop worrying and start enjoying it a lot. Whether it goes well or badly, there’s no longer any possibility of preparing anything different, so I can finally just focus on going with what I have. And it’s a lot more fun!

    This also seems to suggest that marriage works better for an INFP than dating does. (?)


    Reuben Reply:

    Also: Thank you, Corin, for this thoughtful post and for the many others in your helpful blog.


  22. Amy

    Mar 14, 2016

    4:40 am

    Thank you so much, first of all for this blog and second of all, for this post. This describes me (confirmed INFP) so perfectly and is exactly what I need to read. I’m in the wrong job right now, I know that, but I’m at dangerous risk of second guessing my choice to leave it. Even though I am terrible at making decisions and plans etc (they key roles of a Project Manager), and I’m in an industry I don’t care about!! Wow, if only I could have read this and acted upon it years ago (funny how much longer feeling-based decisions can take to take any action – if any at all), I am so grateful. Thank you.


  23. Garrett

    May 31, 2017

    10:38 am

    I made the unfortunate decision to spend 4 years with an INFP only for her to end it literally in one night. Completely hit me by surprise that someone so loyal, caring, and considerate could make such a cruel decision almost on a whim. I’m an ENTJ and I cannot stop trying to understand the logic. I know there isn’t any in the INFP decision-making process which is my dilemma. You can get angry with this post if you would like but I highly caution NT’s or TJ’s from forming a relationship with an INFP. You will likely get burned and be left wondering what the hell happened.


  24. Adam Uziel

    Mar 2, 2018

    1:17 pm

    Hello. I am also an infp and this article really hit home on an issue I am dealing with now.

    I took a job last year at a startup company in California with a great salary and equity. My heart has always told me I belonged there and that was my soul place. I enjoyed what I was doing but logically started to 2nd guess my happiness…. what if this company doesn’t make it? Do I deserve to be paid this kind of money? If this company doesn’t make it will I be able to find a job close to my family ?

    I was approached by my previous employer in Ohio to come back. I didn’t really care too much for that job or work environment but it is near my mom, sister and family. Even tho underneath I wanted to stay in California, I somehow talked myself into taking this job in ohio. I’m currently flying back and am supposed to start in a week. But I’m so angry at myself for doing this. I want to change my mind but I’m afraid of burning bridges with this Ohio company as I used to work for them and it would tarnish my reputation and ability to get a good reference. Altho at the same time I don’t want to work for them anyways. But I’m concerned if I’ll be looked at as unreliable and other companies might not want to hire me in the future.

    This company in California really wants me to come back… they left it as an open door. I want to follow my heart and turn right back around but I’m afraid of burning bridges.

    The question is… Will burning bridges force me to make something of myself…so that I won’t have this Ohio job to fall back on?

    I feel so frozen.


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